to and from RSA churches and leaders
Dear friends in the Regional Synod of Albany,
Churches are navigating new waters with the COVID-19 outbreak in our area.
Over fifty church leaders from across Albany Synod gathered on two zoom video conference calls on March 17, 2020. These leaders included pastors, preaching elders, consistory members, classis delegates, and synod staff. We shared with one another about how we were feeling, the challenges we’re facing, and our good ideas for adapting our ministries given the current restrictions.
Read on to discover the highlights of our conversation. But first, we want to be clear about the general consensus of both groups, and the recommendation of the staff and officers of the Regional Synod of Albany, regarding the cancellation of church gatherings.
To all the consistories of the churches within the bounds of Albany Synod: We recommend that you cancel in-person worship and other in-person group gatherings during this pandemic. We encourage you to explore other ways of gathering, including creative use of technology (more info below).
As per CDC guidelines, this is the best way to slow the spread of the Coronavirus and keep others and ourselves safe. If your consistory hasn’t yet made the decision to suspend in-person worship and other gatherings, we urge you to discuss the issue as soon as possible.
We make this difficult recommendation because we follow the one who tells us to love God, and love our neighbor as ourselves. We recognize that this is a very hard decision to make, because for many of us, cancelling in-person worship doesn’t feel like love--it feels like loss. We worry about the loss of connection and support that our vulnerable members need. Sorting out solutions to these challenges will not be easy.
In Albany Synod we believe what our motto states: we are “in this together...for good.” We want to help and support you through this unusual time. And we remind you that it’s not going to all come together at once. We’re called to be creative and experiment with new ways of doing church. We hope we can all learn together as we navigate these unfamiliar waters.
In Faith, Hope and Love,
Albany Synod Staff:
Albany Synod Officers:
Paige Convis (president)
Patti Varga (vice president)
Jason Fulkerson (past president)
You are not alone in how you’re feeling!
The church leaders participating in our gatherings this week expressed many feelings.
- Nervous for the people we care about, for their health and financial stability.
- Uncertain about how to best support those in our congregations that are in the high-risk group for contracting COVID-19.
- Worried that immunocompromised or elderly people will insist on attending church and will contract Coronavirus if we don’t cancel worship.
- Worried about keeping people connected with others and engaged in their faith.
- Worried about the financial health of the congregation in the absence of regular offering collection.
- Anxious about learning new things about online worship. “Will I be able to learn what I need to learn, and do what I need to do?”
- Angry that people are being frightened away from church. “Is this evil at work to diminish the work of God’s people in this world?”
- Excited, to see people finding new ways to be human to each other and to connect with people through virtual worship and outreach.
- Delighted by all the newness. Every 5 minutes, something is different!
- Tired. It’s hard work to stay calm in the midst of the confusion and changes.
- Proactive, we have to do our best to not spread the virus, each one doing our part.
- Overwhelmed by needing to balance normal responsibilities (work and personal responsibilities and now homeschooling kids!).
- Thrown by all the changes. If church is usually a constant, not having worship makes everything feel unbalanced, not right.
- Out of my depth. It feels as “someone unplugged my treadmill while I was running.” “I thought I knew what I was doing, but now I need to readjust.”
- Concerned for justice. If we are to welcome all our people to worship on Sundays, it doesn’t feel fair to tell those who are immunocompromised to stay home while the rest go to worship. “We don’t want the church to move on without everyone.”
- Lonely. Staying home and following CDC guidelines on physical distancing means that we don’t talk to or interact with many--or any--people. “I feel so isolated. And it’s only just begun.”
- Grieving the loss of normalcy, income, stability, future plans, and so much else.
by Jason White, pastor of First Reformed Church of Scotia
Blessed are the healthcare workers,
who offer hope with selfless actions in the thick of it all.
Blessed are the grocery employees,
who show up, say hello, give a smile, and say, “have a nice day, be safe.”
Blessed are the pharmacy employees,
who keep us healthy in the midst of great distress.
Blessed are the teachers,
who swiftly change their plans to keep students engaged and connected.
Blessed are the parents,
who quickly get creative and realize new skills and gifts.
Blessed are the food distributors,
who provide free food for children and families in need.
Blessed are the trash and recycling collectors,
who remind us that some parts of normal life continue.
Blessed are the older adults,
who share their wisdom and offer the rest of us their courage.
Wisdom from the Rev. Dr. Harlan Ratmeyer:
In anxious times:
-Set the facts in order
-Let the heart have its day
-Postpone irrevocable decisions
Form a small group (3-4 people) to be your congregational Covid-19 Response team. This team would:
- Stay up to date on facts and separate facts from hysteria
- Remain connected to local, regional and national authorities
- Investigate possible adjustments to church practices in response to needs
- Make recommendations to consistory
Try new forms of worship:
Make decisions in steps and conduct experiments. What works for one congregation may not work for another. Try some of these ideas and see what works.
- Stream worship services through Facebook Live, Youtube, Zoom, Vimeo or similar platforms. PhoneLiveStreaming.com allows people to dial in and listen if they do not have internet access but have phone access. Here is a super-simple guide to livestreaming worship from the RCA’s Faithward website.
- Snail-mail home worship packets with hymns, prayers, and sermon reflections to members, so they can worship as families, or on the phone with a friend.
- Organize drive-in worship in parking-lots. (First Church in Albany and Community Reformed Church of Colonie have much experience with this and can help other congregations learn)
- Mobile or Online Giving. Ministrybrands.com has several options, faithstreet.com is another reputable company, and paypal also works (and is familiar to many people). The RCA is also negotiating a corporate account that would be relatively simple for churches to try--more information about this option will be available by March 21, 2020.
- Find another church to worship together with online if your congregation won’t be livestreaming their own worship. Here is a working document cataloging the RSA churches currently offering streaming services.
Care for others:
pastoral care needs aren’t disappearing during this pandemic, but needs are changing rapidly. It’s time to get creative about how to stay connected and serve others.
- Plan “Coffee Hour” or dinner together online by videoconference.
- Host a videoconference to check in with others, do bible study, or have meetings.
- Develop care networks or old-fashioned phone prayer chains.
- Encourage congregants to check-in on each other with phone calls or texts
- Identifying what the needs are (i.e. grocery shopping, child care) and connecting people to help in those areas.
- You’ve been hearing about it for years; now is a great time to try Faithwalking, a personal spiritual transformation process that happens in small groups. NEW: people who are new to Faithwalking may sign up for an introductory Foundations Module 1 course that will be happening entirely online, beginning in April 2020. Email Sherri Meyer-Veen, Albany Synod Faithwalking Coordinator, for more information. email@example.com
- Some helpful AA (Twelve Step) resources are here.
- Children’s ministries: stream videos online of your children’s ministry leaders offering short lessons, or send learning or worship materials by mail or email.
- Consider how to support local food pantries in more expansive ways. The need for this help will increase as people are out of work and need access to food.
- Read Eliza Cortes Bast’s article on doing local mission under quarantine for more good ideas.
Tell us what’s happening in your church!
Albany Synod is looking for “Digital Mentors!”
Do you already know a thing or two about live streaming worship, or setting up a zoom meeting, or podcasting sermons? Is your church already accepting online donations? Do you know enough to help others learn to do these new things? If you’d like to volunteer to be a digital mentor, email Abby Norton-Levering
so she can connect you with those who need your help!